The Defense of Marriage Act is a United States federal law that was passed in 1996. DOMA, as it is commonly known, prevents same-sex couples legally married in a state like Massachusetts from receiving any federal benefits. On top of this major setback for gay couples, DOMA also defines marriage by federal legal standards as being between one man and one woman and ensures that no state be required to recognize a marriage between homosexuals that was performed in another state.
A few weeks ago I discussed why exactly it is legally necessary to pass Question 1 in the state of Maine. However, regardless of whether Question 1 was to succeed, same-sex couples would still only receive recognition from the state of Maine. DOMA is where the real discrimination lies. Because of this entirely unconstitutional law, legally married same-sex couples are only “kind of” married, as opposed to their heterosexual counterparts.
The biggest problem with this lies in states’ rights. In a country built upon states’ rights, this makes very little sense. The definition of marriage that DOMA creates greatly infringes upon rights. Since marriage is defined by DOMA as a union between one woman and one man, any “marriage” performed somewhere that does not fit this definition is essentially not a marriage. But what right does the federal government have to define something like marriage? Marriage is generally considered to be a state issue. While you can be married in a church, the actual legal foundation of your marriage exists within your state. Regardless of whether or not states should choose to ignore gay marriages, the federal government should not be capable of creating a country-wide definition of a state-by-state issue.
While DOMA is obviously hideously discriminatory, this is not the law’s biggest problem. Instead, the problems lie within the mandate’s refusal to include the will of the states that do, in fact, recognize and support same-sex marriage. While, again, states do have the right to ignore gay marriage, the federal government does not have the right to tell states who do acknowledge it that they are wrong.
DOMA is notoriously unconstitutional, and is thankfully being reviewed by the Supreme Court within the year. It is, however, despicable that we as a nation have allowed this blatant discrimination to continue year in and year out. One can only hope that the judicial branch of the United States government can right the wrongs that have been committed for so long.